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Pakistan intelligence may be driving arrests

Al Qaeda suspect said to have cased financial buildings


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Sources: Suspect arrested in Britain is a major al Qaeda player.

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(CNN) -- The arrests of more than a dozen terror suspects around the world this week may have been fueled by intelligence from Pakistan, and many of the suspects are alleged to have strong ties to al Qaeda.

One man arrested in a British roundup of al Qaeda suspects is believed to have been on the ground in New York in 2001 conducting reconnaissance of financial buildings identified recently as possible attack targets, a U.S. law enforcement source told CNN.

He has been identified as Esa al-Hindi by U.S. government officials who describe him a "major player who moved operational information between key components of al Qaeda" in Britain, the United States and Pakistan.

Senior Pakistani intelligence officials said that during interrogations last month after he was apprehended, suspected al Qaeda computer expert Naeem Noor Khan spoke of a terror network in Britain and said he frequently relayed messages from Pakistan to the cell leader, an important al Qaeda operative.

British authorities said Heathrow Airport was one of "several potential" targets in London that were uncovered as a result of the Pakistan investigation, which turned up a sheaf of photos of potential targets.

"I think it's an ominous sign. Whenever there's an attack of this scale going on in London -- it's not just a British thing, it's a U.S. thing too, because most of the time when al Qaeda strikes, it tends to strike in multiple, simultaneous attacks," said Evan Kohlmann of Globalterroralert.com.

Al-Hindi was one of a dozen suspects arrested in Britain on Tuesday who authorities have accused of being part of a terror cell. The British authorities also said the United States has been particularly interested in al-Hindi for "some time." (Full story)

U.S. law enforcement sources said al-Hindi conducted some of the surveillance in the United States back in 2001.

One source told CNN that law enforcement authorities have definitively placed al-Hindi in three of the buildings that were cased -- the New York Stock Exchange and the Citigroup building in New York City and the Prudential Financial building in Newark, New Jersey.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the terror alert level Sunday to orange, or high, for financial services facilities in those cities and Washington, D.C., because of intelligence about potential terrorist attacks.

Government sources told CNN the surveillance reports found in Pakistan that contained details about the U.S. facilities were written in perfect English. U.S. authorities said al-Hindi is known to speak perfect English.

"He's someone who's perfectly fluent in English, in Urdu, in Arabic," Kohlmann said. "He's a transnational al Qaeda operative who has his fingers in many pots.

Terror experts describe al-Hindi as a Muslim convert and former commander of an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

Intelligence indicates al Qaeda training camps have recently been reactivated along Pakistan's border with southeastern Afghanistan, defense and intelligence sources told CNN.

The intelligence includes overhead surveillance imagery gathered in the last month. Intelligence indicates vehicles and people recently moved into areas known to be training sites for al Qaeda. (Full story)

British police late Thursday also arrested another man with suspected links to Afghan terrorists. New Scotland Yard identified the man as Babar Ahmad, 30.

The United States is seeking to extradite Ahmad, a British citizen whom they allege was seeking to use U.S.-based Web sites in connection with "acts of terrorism in Chechnya and Afghanistan."

He is accused of trying to use the Internet and e-mail to raise money to fund violence and murder in the two countries, with the intention of "advancing a political or religious or ideological cause."

In Albany, New York, the imam and the founder of a mosque are being held on charges stemming from an FBI sting operation in which the suspects believed they were trying to help a terrorist launder money, federal officials said Thursday.

A criminal complaint said an undercover FBI informant told the two men the money came from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile that he would use against Pakistan's U.N. ambassador in retaliation for Pakistan's support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Federal and state officials said the arrests have no connection to the recent rise in the terror alert levels in New York and Washington.

The federal complaint identifies the men as Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain. Officials described Aref as a 34-year-old Iraqi citizen with asylum status who serves as imam at the Masjid As-Salam mosque. Hossain is the 49-year-old founder, a U.S. citizen and native of Bangladesh. (Full story)

Law enforcement sources said the men are believed to be connected to Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist organization previously based in northern Iraq with links to the notorious Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who U.S. officials believe has links to al Qaeda.

A federal law enforcement source told CNN investigators were interested in Aref for shipping money from the United States to Islamic radicals overseas, so they came up with the sting operation.

In Saudi Arabia Thursday evening, police arrested a cleric who authorities said is a senior al Qaeda leader in the Saudi kingdom and is on that country's list of 26 most-wanted terror suspects.

Faris al-Zahrani was captured in Abhar, a town in the mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia, near the Yemeni border, an Interior Ministry official said. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001, were Saudi Arabian, and nine of them were from Abhar Province.

Al-Zahrani has been described as a cleric who would give religious justification for al Qaeda's activities.

Al Qaeda and other terror groups have aimed attacks at non-Arabs in Saudi Arabia, partly in an effort to undermine the Saudi economy.

Six militants surrendered during the one-month amnesty that King Fahd declared on June 23. The most prominent was Khaled al-Harby, a confidant of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.


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